For people experiencing IBS, eating out can cause stress, anxiety and feelings of embarrassment. These are completely normal. HOWEVER, you shouldn’t have to feel that way! By using some tricks and tips you can eat out without fear and be present and enjoy the company of loved ones.
1. Be prepared!
Knowing ahead of time what’s on the menu is a great strategy to help get rid of some of the anxiety that builds up before eating out. By scanning the menu and taking note what’s in each dish and what’s friendly for your tummy, you can have an idea of what you’re going to order in advance. This helps you to feel comfortable and confident knowing that you’re able to make an informed decision and won’t feel pressured at the moment and make a choice that leads you worrying about the impending explosion in your belly. Stress is also known to trigger these symptoms in some people so anything that can help lower stress is absolutely a win!
2. Know your triggers
Having an awareness of what specific foods trigger your symptoms is a massive advantage when looking at a menu and making a choice. Knowing your triggers means you can avoid these foods completely or ask them to be excluded from a dish where possible. If you’re still in the beginning stage of a low FODMAP diet for the first time and still working out your triggers, it may be harder to make a safe choice but that’s not to say you can’t, it just means you may need to tread more cautiously and your options may be limited. However, if you let the staff know about your dietary requirements, they’ll most likely be able to find something suitable for you.
3. On the side, please
Sauces, dips, curries and other rich dishes are often hiding onion and garlic, two common triggers for IBS sufferers. By asking for them on the side, you are in control of how much you eat, as they may be safe in smaller quantities. Don’t worry about sounding fussy! It’s a completely reasonable request and a valid concern. Nobody wants the uncomfortable, often painful, symptoms that occur after eating these foods if they can avoid it.
4. Pay attention to quantities
As mentioned above, although certain foods/substances may be triggers for you, they may be safe in when consumed in smaller quantities. Alcohol falls into this category – too much alcohol may increase the ‘leakiness’ of the gut in the short term, which affects the normal movement of the gut and can lead to symptoms, particularly for those with sensitive tummies. Some strategies around alcohol are:
Be mindful of how many drinks you’re having and limit yourself to just 1 or 2. I know everyone says it, but you can still have fun with only a couple of drinks, especially if you’re around the right people!
f you’re drinking wine, pour a smaller glass and top it up with soda water. This helps with hydration as well so you’re still getting the taste but not the dehydration, it’s a win-win!
If you’re concerned about alcohol and want to avoid it completely, have a kombucha or mocktail instead, that way you won’t feel like you’re missing out
5. When in doubt, go back to basics
Although it may seem boring, a piece of protein with steamed veggies or a side salad (dressing on the side) is a great, safe option if nothing on the menu seems suitable.
6. Don’t forget your fibre
Try your best to include something on your plate that feeds your gut bugs. Examples include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. These plant-based foods help nourish our guts and keep them happy, healthy and functioning normally. Fibre also helps us to feel full so ordering a side of one of these can help prevent overeating, which can lead to symptom development.
7. Use your support network
Although it may be embarrassing to talk about at first, let those closest to you know about your IBS and how eating out creates those feelings of dread and anxiety. If they decide on a restaurant or café that doesn’t seem to have any suitable options on their menu for you, let them know and they’re more than likely going to be understanding and accommodating to your needs. If you need more support, ask your dietitian! That’s what they’re there for, after all, to support and guide you in your journey to becoming symptom-free.
If there is one take away from this piece, it is that IBS shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying food and the company of your nearest and dearest. Food is so much more than just what to eat, but it is often a foundation of our social behaviours as humans. We use it to celebrate, commiserate, and catch up with both old and new friends. By using some of these simple tips, you can remove some of the fear associated with eating out and instead use that energy to be completely present and at ease in the company you choose to keep.
Erin Dwyer. Eating out on a low FODMAP diet. 2017. Monash University. Available from: https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/eating-out-on-low-fodmap-diet/
Dr Megan Rossi. How to keep your gut happy this festive season. 2019. Available from: https://www.theguthealthdoctor.com/all-articles/the-gut-health-doctor-christmas-party-tips-for-looking-after-your-gut?rq=eating%20out
Dr Jane Varney. Eating out tips and tricks. 2020. Monash University. Available from: https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/eating-out-tips-and-tricks/